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Opinion: AI is Not the Future of Signs in Vermont

A response to our March 2024 cover story.

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PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Editor’s Note: We received the following “letter to the editor” from veteran Brain Squad member Jake Zani, Rule Signs & Graphics (Randolph, VT).

THIS IS IN RESPONSE to the recent article “New Ideas Revolutionizing the Sign Business” (see ST, March 2024, page 26). Where did you all get the rose-colored glasses you’re looking through? I’d love a pair.

There are few sign shops in Vermont. Most are around one- to three-person setups and very few are full-service. None that I know of are doing enough business to waste time on cute toys like AI salespersonship, or “generative design.” Adobe’s AI algorithms in particular are nowhere near helpful in the design process. Design is all about novelty, new ideas, making things that stand out. AI content generation relies on playing to predictability and stereotypes; in other words “show me what I expect,” not “get my attention.” And, by the way, AI content generation only works as long as your internet connection is solid. I don’t know about out of state, but in Vermont, our broadband and basic electrical connectivity are not headed towards greater reliability.

Second, Gen Z isn’t buying into the corporate culture dominating our nation and economy. They can see quite clearly how destructive it has been and want as little to do with it as they can get away with, while getting exactly what they want for pay, benefits and hours (and having little or no expectation that the company will help them when large crises arise). I don’t know of any one- to three-person businesses in the White River Valley that have successfully generated basic interest among high school and college students, let alone hire and retain any for longer than a few weeks. Students are either leaving the state or going to work for larger entities that they know they can abandon whenever they want.

And finally, stop thinking in terms of economic growth; that is the old way. This is an era of down- and same-sizing, where consumers care deeply about the waste a business generates, how far the materials used have traveled and what meaningful things a business is doing to give back to its physical community. The big-business “growth at all costs” death-grip that corporate America has had on the US for the last 75-ish years is collapsing. This is the time for sail-trimming, cutting offerings that are resource-heavy and short in the lifespan of the final product and actually caring about unmet local needs. We are also probably going to see some major changes in what the federal government subsidizes (the prices of gasoline, vinyl films and exterior paints for example, are likely to start going up significantly).

This article is looking at the future through some very rose-colored glasses. The future is a smaller, more flexible (less profitable) business, more conscientious usage of materials and production methods, and less reliance on internet-dependent tools. Or at least that appears to be the future of shops in Vermont. — Jake Zani

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